A demolition derby is among the entertainments in the small town of Sidney,… (The Ross Bros. )
The ZIP Code for Sidney, Ohio, a city of 20,000 northwest of Columbus, becomes the title of Turner Ross and Bill Ross' "45365," a graceful, affectionate yet clear-eyed portrait of daily Middle America small-town life in which no individuals are interviewed but instead are observed with detachment as they go about their lives.
In many ways, Sidney suggests that Norman Rockwell's America still exists. The town center is still dominated by a grand Second Empire-style courthouse, and many well-maintained vintage structures, strung along tree-lined streets, survive.
FOR THE RECORD:
"The Red Baron": A review of the film "The Red Baron" in the March 19 Calendar section credited the real-life German World War I pilot Baron Manfred von Richthofen with 20 kills. Known as the Red Baron, Von Richthofen had a record 80 combat kills. —
The typical citizen is cheerful and friendly, and the filmmakers capture many traditional community events and entertainments -- a puffy Elvis impersonator, a carnival. The Rosses spend time with, among countless others, a local DJ, a judge campaigning for reelection and a man assuring his friend he knows someone who can rid his large storage shed of bats.
The film suggests that some parts of America's heartland seem to have escaped the wrenching and often destructive changes that have beset so many other communities. But it's not all hearts and flowers. An apparent drug dealer accuses a customer of stealing from her purse, a reminder that, as inviting as Sidney seems, it exists in the real world -- and in this case, a place chronicled before the recession hit.
-- Kevin Thomas
"45365." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At the Downtown Independent, downtown L.A.
Time passes slowly in a diner
It's safe to say nothing good comes of being stuck in a roadside diner for the length of a low-budget indie, especially one as molasses-slow-and-thick as the thumb-twiddler "The Killing Jar."
The seven poor saps biding their time on a hot, rainy night -- including the sad-eyed waitress (Amber Benson), the traveling salesman (Harold Perrineau), the quiet regular (Kevin Gage) and the dumb deputy (Lew Temple) -- get breaking news of a slaughtered family and a black pickup being spotted, but when a mysterious stranger (Michael Madsen) shows up, it takes forever for anyone to go outside and actually see what color his ride is.
Instead, what dribbles out is a series of repetitive, dull, clichéd showdowns until most of the cast is gruesomely dispatched and the twist-that-isn't-a-twist is revealed.
Writer-director Mark Young, perhaps having gone stir crazy from his one set, mistakes endless insert shots -- coffee poured, blood-spattered countertop, jukebox coin insert, etc., etc. -- for drawn-out tension. Benson, meanwhile, is so terrible her close-up line readings feel as inconsequential as the insert shots, and Madsen, it must be said, finally looks exasperated with playing grumbly psychos. At times he looks as helpless as his hostages.
-- Robert Abele "The Killing Jar." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At the Beverly Center, West L.A.
Very essence of identity
The high school reunion is hardly a unique entry point for a story, but for filmmaker Kimberly Reed, the return to her Montana hometown was an especially loaded event.
For starters, she'd be facing former classmates who knew her as Paul the football captain.
Yet Reed's transgender coming-out to old friends is the least part of this stirring and provocative documentary.
At the heart of "Prodigal Sons," a family drama in the form of a succinct, eloquent personal journal, is a sibling rivalry whose reverberations touch upon the very essence of human identity: what we inherit, what we learn, how we move forward and to what degree we look back.
Reed receives a warm reception at her 20-year reunion, but she's on eggshells with one of her classmates, her adopted brother. Since he was left back in preschool, Marc has been the struggler to her high achiever, his behavior problems exacerbated by a brain injury. He's on multiple meds and given to hair-trigger explosions that he says aren't the real him -- even as Kim looks at pictures of herself as a boy and says with certainty, "That wasn't me."
Marc's research into his biological roots leads to the revelation, 30 minutes into the film, that he's the grandchild of two of the biggest names of 1940s Hollywood.
This tantalizing twist may provide answers, but it doesn't prevent Marc's deepening mental illness or quell his conflict with Kim, who comes to understand that "we were both haunted by the same ghost."
Reed insists on pursuing difficult questions, and this is a film not easily forgotten.
-- Sheri Linden "Prodigal Sons." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.
'Red Baron's' personal tale